By Felix Rios

This is the second in a two-part series on chat bots, which enable messenger applications to facilitate automated interactions between machines and humans, and present major possibilities for the future of Market Research.

Recently, during their developer conference, Microsoft announced a huge push to become a development platform/environment to build bots. This will allow automated interactions between companies and people. I think it’s safe to say that Microsoft, having missed the entire mobile revolution, is now looking to be sure that they are early to the bots game and become the platform of choice.

Here, you can see Microsoft CEO Sathya Nadella talking about this, and also showing some of the ways Cortana interacts seamlessly inside a conversation with a friend.

Bots are already being described in the technology world as the next big evolution in human-machine interaction, comparable to the app revolution.

Why Chat?
Messenger and Whatsapp are today processing 60 billion messages on a daily basis. That’s 3x the number of SMS messages sent globally. Maybe you don’t like to chat and still prefer to talk over the phone, but whether you like it or not, there is a generation coming which has grown up wired to interact with their friends by chatting. Whether this is good or bad is part of a different debate, but this is the reality.

Even if we are on our own, we may still feel silly giving orders out loud to a machine to do things for you. If I’m cooking, I’m ok with telling my phone, “Hey Siri, set up a timer for 20 minutes.” Do I feel silly? Hell yeah! Does my wife give me weird looks? You bet she does! But I still do it. Admittedly, my wife wouldn’t do it, and like her, most of my friends who I ask the same question answer similarly. But chat is different. It is discreet, so there is no social friction with it. Social friction is powerful – it’s probably the reason why we are still not ready for augmented reality glasses like Google Glass.

Bots will allow hyper contextual, smart conversations. In a world where we are interacting seamlessly with machines to get things done, we are forced to rethink how this will be affecting what we think of brands, products and services. These are a couple of clear examples that I’ve thought of recently.

Voice of the Customer Bot

How will the Voice of the Customer industry be affected when our customer satisfaction is driven by interactions with bots who are making our ticket reservations or updating our account details for our internet provider?

Bots can be trained in real time to address glitches in the interactions. The errors caused by one bot in a single interaction can be quickly deployed to an entire array of bots in a matter of seconds. All of a sudden this becomes a self-learning customer support environment that gets increasingly better with every mistake it makes.

In this case, your feedback of your customer support experience could lead to immediate changes, and impact instantly the way other clients are interacting with the bots. For basic and repeatable customer support tasks, this could also mean a much quicker resolution, with no queuing time, as bots can be scaled up at very little cost. The larger the number of interactions, the more data is collected and the higher the chances of the system getting better. The better we get at this, the more complex cases these bots will be able to handle.

BACI = Bot Assisted Chat Interviewing

Bots could make great interviewing engines for qualitative research. All of our surveys are already scripted with a very hierarchical structure. That is the nature of the game. We will have to do our bit at rethinking how we ask the questions but imagine if, rather than having to answer a 30 min survey in a single session, a bot would administer [cough!] some, [cough!] of these questions throughout the day, depending on where the participant is, or even what he is doing with his phone.

A bot could be your assistant and guide you through a diary study, sending you reminders to share your feedback when you leave a store or restaurant, or asking you to upload a picture of a shelf if it detects you are in your favorite supermarket.

The more I research this topic the more I can think of clear use cases for the technology in the data collection and customer insights world. These are the kind of things that we need to be looking at to make sure our industry remains relevant to the generations coming behind us, who are already the native users of this kind of technology.

You can try some of this stuff yourself. This link will take you to a Google doc with a list of bots currently sitting in Facebook Messenger. While you are doing it, bear in mind we are watching the very early stages of a technology that could change how we interact with machines. Focus on the potential usage rather than the current frictions in order to conceptualize its full potential impact. Give it a try – I’d love to hear what you think.

Also, if you can think of any other use cases, drop me a line, I would love to discuss them with you and fantasize about it for a while.

Felix is technology and innovation manager, market research at Ugam, a provider of managed analytics for retailers, brands and market research firms.